African Religion: Egyptian gods

Ancient Egypt is known for many things; for over 3000 years it was ruled by the Pharaohs, they constructed pyramids to serve as tombs for the Pharaohs, they studied astronomy and mathematics, they used River Nile for crop irrigation and as a channel for transportation. Their religious system was an elaborate one that entailed a list of many gods and goddesses.

Egyptians of the past believed that gods ruled the earth, the skies, and the seas; they believed that the gods and goddesses had absolute influence over nature and life. The gods brought storms, droughts, and good harvests; they protected people from negative elements like ill fortune, sicknesses and even death.

Egyptians of those days hoped that the gods and goddesses would bring them a better life. Different cities and towns chose different gods and goddesses to worship. The different towns and cities had a respective god or goddess whom they chose as a patron of that city or town and devoted a temple to him or her. People believed that without a patron god, the town would be open to invasion of all ills and disasters.

The following is a list of popular Egyptian deities

(a) Osiris

Osiris is one of the main Egyptian deities. He is usually depicted as a mummified man adorning a tall crown decorated with two ostrich feathers. He is also known as the god of death and is charged with the responsibility of presiding over judgment of souls in the afterlife.

In Ancient Egyptian mythological beliefs during Egypt’s early history, the gods ruled over earth as Kings; Osiris was one of those gods who served as King. During his reign, Osiris is said to have presided over the court that determined the fate of Kings upon death. Also, it is said that he is the one who brought civilization to the people of Egypt.

(b) Isis

Isis is the wife and sister of Osiris. According to Egyptian mythology, Osiris was at one time killed by his brother Seth because of jealousy issues. It is said that not only did Seth kill his brother Osiris but he also dismembered his body. Isis and her other sister Nephthys had to roam all over Egypt looking for Osiris’ body, and when they found it, they had to piece up the dismantled pieces together before bringing it back to life thus making him Egypt’s first mummy. The ancient process of mummifying Egyptian Kings upon death is traced and attributed to this ancient mythology. The love of Isis is symbolic of the promise and regeneration of eternal life.

Isis is also identified as the goddess of motherhood, fertility, magic, healing, death, and rebirth. She was also touted as the mother and protector of all the Pharaohs. When Osiris died, Isis took over his duties as the goddess of the dead who determined the fate of the Pharaohs. Over time Isis popularity soared so much so that the other gods were all seen a attributes of her. She is usually depicted with outstretched wings

(c) Horus

Osiris and Isis had a son named Horus; the three signify the holy family; god, goddess, and the holy child. Horus is the Egyptian god of Kings and the sky. He is usually depicted simply as a falcon, or as a man with a falcon head. After Osiris was temporarily brought back to life by Isis, they used the short time at their disposal to create a heir to Osiris who was the King of Egypt, as we have already pointed out, the heir apparent was Horus. Ancient mythology state that that the sun represents Horus’ right eye, while the moon represents the left by virtue of him being the sky god, rather the sky itself.
Ancient rulers of Southern Egypt were adherents of Horus. After their conquest of Northern Egypt in around 2200 bce, reunited both the North and Southern Egypt and made Horus the symbol of the new unified country. Incidentally, the Pharaoh was deemed the earthly form of Horus. Horus is a symbol of power based on how important the sun, the moon, and the skies are in all aspects of ancient Egyptian life. He serves as the provider and protector of not only the Pharaohs but the entire Egyptian people.

(d) Hathor

Hathor is the goddess of love and fertility. She is also worshipped as the mother goddess of the sky, music and dance, as well as the creator and sustainer of all life. The Greeks equate her to their own goddess of love known as Aphrodite. It is said that malefic spirits scamper off, anytime Hathor rattles her favorite musical instrument, the sistrum. Hathor was so revered that she was almost equated with the goddess Isis.

Hathor is usually depicted in many forms. She has a human form but she is also commonly depicted as either a lioness or a cow. Her other obscure forms include; a sycamore tree, and a snake. Hathor is also considered the goddess of the underworld who provides comfort and safe passage to the dead when they leave this world for the next. It is believed that anyone who carries her cloth at the time of death, would have a safe journey through the underworld.

Hathor’s status as a goddess of both life and death exhibits another angle of the Egyptian traditions. Egyptians hold a strong belief of the afterlife and see death in this world as birth into the afterlife. The two events are intimately connected, and the same goddess who brings life into this world is the same one who helps it transition into the next one. Hathor is seen as a caretaker providing food for both the living and the dead. She is also associated with the beginnings of life, the water breaking just before childbirth is said to be her doing.
(e) Ra
Ra is the sun god of ancient Egypt. Also known as Re, Ra is identified as the supreme power of the whole universe, the giver of life, the head of the Egyptian pantheon, and the ruler of the other Egyptian deities. There are other mythologies which indicate that he was the only god and that the other gods were merely aspects of Him.

Ra was so powerful and popular that he was worshipped throughout Egypt. He is normally depicted as man with the head of a hawk donning a sun disk. Legend has it that the sun travels across the sky when Ra drives his chariot across the heavens. Horus is said to be a representative of Ra who rules the earth on his behalf. Ra is the patron god of the pharaoh.

(f) Seth
Seth is the god of the desert and oases, brother to Osiris, and Isis, husband and brother to Nephthys. He is also known as the god of chaos as he represented everything that disrupted harmony and stability in the country. In fact, there are sources which indicate that the term ‘seth’ may be at the root of the Hebrew noun ‘sheitan’ (or the Christian ‘satan’) that initially meant adversary.

It is believed that Seth’s cult is the oldest in Egypt; initially Egyptians prayed and worshipped him to watch over their dead relatives but then he turned on them and was seen to be causing more harm than good. Seth is also depicted in many forms among them, the body of a man with an animal head referred to as the ‘seth animal’ he is also depicted as a scorpion, snake, scorpion, boar, the crocodile and the antelope. As the Lord of the desert, calamities such as drought, war, and storms were attributed to him and he was seen as an opponent of everything that bore life.

(g) Nephthys

Nephthys is the sister of Osiris, Isis, and sister and wife to Seth; she is the goddess of death, nighttime, lamentation, and rivers, she was also the nursing mother for Horus. Nephthys is also identified with divine assistance and protective guardianship. She was the war companion of her husband Seth.

Nepthys is typically paired with her sister Isis in funerary rites because of their roles as protectors of the mummy. Nepthys was a protective god who symbolizes the death experience the same way Isis symbolizes the birth experience; normally she is depicted as a woman with falcon wings stretched as a symbol of protection or as a kite.

In essence, the Egyptian religion was very complex; it was also relatively cushioned from external influences for many centuries. The gods were never grouped in a systematic fashion therefore most of them were interchangeable.

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